Minn. Girl, 8, Was Beaten to Death by Father and Stepmom Who Had Denied Her Food and Water
Brett Jason Hallow and Sarah Kay Hallow could face 40 years in prison when they're sentenced in September
The father and stepmother of Autumn Hallow, the emaciated 8-year-old Minnesota girl who died last summer from asphyxiation, have pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges, PEOPLE confirms.
Both Brett Jason Hallow, 31, and Sarah Kay Hallow, 29, will be sentenced in September, online records indicate. Each is facing a possible 40-year prison term for their roles in the death of his daughter last August.
The Hallows, investigators had alleged, physically abused Autumn inside their Elk River apartment, often tying the girl up if they felt she had misbehaved.
The couple allegedly withheld food from Autumn. At the time of her death, she weighed 33 pounds.
Police said she had been dead for several days prior to Aug. 13, 2020 - the day they were called to the apartment on a report of an unresponsive child. She was found face-down in a bathtub with a number of head wounds.
The couple was initially charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, to which they'd entered not guilty pleas.
KSTP was in court Monday for the plea hearings, during which the couple acknowledged abusing Autumn and causing her death.
The station reports that prosecutors had contemplated upgrading the murder charges to first-degree counts, citing new evidence, including surveillance video that allegedly showed the abuse Autumn endured in the weeks and days leading up to her death.
In addition to second-degree murder, the Hallows pleaded guilty to several new charges related to the abuse of Autumn's brother and another child in the home.
According to KSTP, Sarah Hallow testified through tears Monday, recalling how she and Brett Hallow both assaulted Autumn in the apartment's bathroom, where she had been confined in the days leading up to her death.
She also said they deprived the girl of food, water and medicine.
After the hearings, Autumn's mother, Kelsey Kruse, spoke with the station.
"I feel like them taking a plea deal for less time was kind of the coward's way out, but also I liked that they were admitting some guilty and I knew part of what happened at least," Kruse said.
Kruse has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Sherburne County Child Protection Services and the Elk River Police Department, which alleges both agencies failed to do more to protect Autumn.
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In 2019, police were involved in several custody disputes between the Hallows and Kruse, who had a protective order against Sarah Hallow, according to the records.
Kruse had shared custody of her children with Brett Hallow. Last June, she called police, telling them she hadn't seen her daughter since January.
An autopsy on Autumn's remains showed puncture wounds on her head as well as abdominal and brain bleeding. Her hips and hands also showed signs of bruising.